In 2014, Dame Inga Beale became the first female to lead Lloyds of London in its 325 year history.
In 2008, she came out as bisexual at an interview with Zurich Insurance. “I didn’t want to start something with secrets attached”. The CEO and group board were very supportive.
Beale admits that when she started work in the city in the 1980’s, the attitude to gay people was very different. “I tried to be something I was not. I desperately wanted to be included.”
However it took one sexist incident to persuade her to leave the city. “An office party to celebrate a cricket victory led to the office walls being covered in posters of girls in bikinis. I objected and they were removed. But the next morning I found my workstation wrapped in the posters.” She resigned and spent the next two years backpacking.
On her return, she had a different mindset. She had met so many LGBT people who convinced her to be herself. So Beale returned to the city as an openly bisexual woman and went on to achieve senior executive roles within the financial services industry.
One of her first tasks at Lloyds, one of the most conservative institutions in the city, was to address the issue of diversity and inclusion and the rights of all LGBT employees in an open and honest fashion.
Last year she launched the ‘Dive In’ festival at Lloyds – a week long celebration of differences. She works closely with her senior teams to create an inclusive environment, one in which, every employee can bring their whole selves to work and feel supported and valued for their work irrespective of their sexual orientation, race or colour.
Beale uses her position in the City to further the rights of LGBT employees and acts as a role model. She says “even In 2017, people still feel that they can’t be themselves. “Over 62% of employees go back into the closet because so many cultural barriers have still to be overcome.” Analysis shows that LGBT staff are up to 30% less productive as they use up so much energy hiding their double lives.
Beale says change is coming, but it is a step by step process. “Affecting change is not easy even with a CEO who is ‘all-in’. It takes courage to speak out every single day.”